Family Trips to National Parks

Great Smoky Mountains National Parks


It's no wonder that this 800-square- mile forest in North Carolina and Tennessee is the most visited of all the national parks; it bursts with bright mountain rhododendron in spring, offers cool mountain air in summer, and is a haze of gold and red in the fall. But what kids especially love is the focus on the good old days. Consider planning a family trip around the annual Mountain Life Festival, a daylong demonstration of pioneer harvest activities, in September.

Setting Up Camp

The park's only lodge is a five-mile hike from the park entrance, at the top of Mount LeConte; reservations are recommended a year in advance ($76.50 per person per night; $61.50 ages 10 and under; 423-429-5704). The park offers ten campgrounds: The most family-friendly in Tennessee is Cades Cove, which offers bicycle rentals and hay- and horse rides. In North Carolina, Smokemount campground is close to the Mountain Farm Museum, a collection of historic buildings. Reservations for both are required during peak season; call five months in advance ($15 per night; 423-436-1231).

Ranger Activities

Kids ages 5 to 12 can earn a Junior Ranger badge after learning about the settlers of the Southern Appalachians. The Cades Cove Nature Trail is a half-mile stretch that's uncrowded and ideal for less energetic little feet. During the summer, costumed "pioneers" make soap and dye wool here.

Danger Zone

It's so tempting to splash into the park's many rivers and streams that many people don't stop to consider just how fast the current is. Even light afternoon showers can cause a sudden rush in the streams, so keep your children on the banks with you as soon as the raindrops start to fall.

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